How to make your phone impossible to track

To make your phone impossible to track, or as close to it as possible, remove the battery and leave it and your phone stored safely in a drawer somewhere. This is the next best thing to not having a phone at all, which is the only way to not have your phone tracked. Not the solution you were after? There’s a middle ground.

There’s a lot you can do to keep specific people and companies from tracking your phone. Some of these approaches cost time or money, others mean losing out on some convenience. There’s a sliding scale between fully private and as convenient as possible, and you get to choose where you fall on that scale.

Read on to see how you can find your own sweet spot between a phone that’s private and one that still does all the phone things.

Updated on: March 8, 2024

In short, here’s how to make your phone (nearly) impossible to track:

  1. Buy a privacy-respecting smartphone.
  2. Install a privacy-respecting operating system.
  3. Scan your phone for malware.
  4. Turn off your phone and remove the battery.
  5. Use airplane mode.
  6. Keep your operating system and apps up to date.
  7. Don’t use public WiFi, do use a VPN.
  8. Block ads and trackers.
  9. Use privacy-respecting search engines.
  10. Keep location services turned off.
  11. Think twice before installing apps.
  12. Limit app permissions.
  13. Lock down your SIM card.
  14. Opt out of your carrier’s tracking.

Let’s look at each of these tactics in detail.

Here are some of the most effective things you can do to rein in the amount of tracking your phone does.

Buy a privacy-respecting smartphone

Given how much phone tracking happens at the hardware level, the biggest impact you can have on how easy your phone is to track is by getting a better smartphone. “Better” here refers specifically to privacy aspects—a more private phone is likely to have fewer features and lower specifications than flagship Android phones and iPhones.

Phones like Purism’s Librem 5 and PINE64’s PinePhone run on privacy-respecting operating systems that have their source code available for public audit. Both of these phones also feature hardware kill switches that physically disconnect power to the WiFi, Bluetooth, cellular signal, microphone, and camera modules.

These kill switches mean that, even though you can trust the Linux-based operating systems on these phones, you don’t have to. Both phones have isolated baseband processors, meaning that these can be selectively starved of power. In other phones, the baseband modem is built into larger dies and can’t be turned off without cutting power to the whole phone. 

Install a privacy-respecting operating system

If you already own an Android phone, you might be able to replace Alphabet’s proprietary Android OS with a free and open-source OS, whether based on Linux, the AOSP (Android Open-Source Project), or something else. Apple doesn’t allow its customers to do this, so if you have an iPhone, you’re out of luck.

The most feature-rich and usable privacy-respecting operating systems are based on the AOSP or Lineage OS (LOS). Lists of supported devices differ, but /e/OS, iodéOS, GrapheneOS, and CalyxOS are all excellent places to start. “Flashing a custom ROM”—replacing Android with a different OS—can be an extremely involved process, though.

Linux-based mobile operating systems like postmarketOS, Sailfish OS, and Ubuntu Touch offer less polished and feature-complete experiences. Great for Linux enthusiasts and developers, they’re not for most people and can rarely be used as “daily drivers.”

Many AOSP- and LOS-based ROMs (operating systems), on the other hand, offer more useful features than Android and iOS, better, more frequent updates, and no tracking or surveillance built into the OS. The only “downside” here is that these operating systems are “de-Googled,” which can take some getting used to.

Not all custom ROMs are created equal, though. Some are far less safe than the Android OS you’re replacing. Also, to replace your OS, you’ll need to unlock your phone’s bootloader. Leaving it unlocked poses a security risk, so be sure to re-lock it (not always possible) or make sure no one else has physical access to your phone.

Do a lot of thorough research before flashing a custom ROM. Download only reputable ROMs and get them directly from the developers. The risk of “bricking” (permanently breaking) your phone is also very real, and even if everything goes well, you can expect some apps, especially banking apps, not to work on a custom ROM.

Scan your phone for malware

No matter what operating system you use on your phone, scan the whole system for malware on a regular basis. Every app and browser extension you install could potentially Trojan-horse malware into your system. The same goes for the links you follow and websites you visit.

Always do your own research, but LibreAV is a good place to start. iPhone users are once again out of luck here, as Apple doesn’t allow such software to scan iOS devices.

If you suspect that someone has installed spyware on your device, a malware scan should pick up on it if it’s there. On an iPhone, scroll through your list of installed apps and look for anything that looks unfamiliar or suspicious.

Turn off your phone and remove the battery

If you’re going somewhere, meeting someone, or discussing something that you don’t want tracked, logged, or recorded, turn off your phone and remove the battery. iPhone users don’t have this option (removing the battery requires specialized equipment and skills) and should take extra care since iPhones can be tracked even when turned off.

Some Android phones also make removing the battery too difficult to bother. For these and all iPhones, invest in a Faraday bag, sleeve, or cage. Put your phone into airplane mode, turn it off, and place it in the Faraday bag. This should thwart any tracking and surveillance techniques that rely on smartphones.

Use airplane mode

Airplane mode, like other security settings, might not ultimately do what it says on the tin. It may look like your phone is offline, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is. It might still be connecting periodically and sharing things like GPS data.. Its baseband modem is definitely still online regardless.

Airplane mode does something, though, so turning it on is far from pointless. If you just want the usual marketing tracking to stop, for example, then airplane mode will do just fine.

Keep your operating system and apps up to date

No matter what operating system you use on your phone, keeping it up to date is an absolute must. While Apple and Alphabet do sometimes push anti-features (“features” that benefit the developer rather than you), updates mainly include bug fixes and security patches, keeping you much safer from tracking and other threats.

The same holds true for apps. Apps, like operating systems, are constantly being found to contain vulnerabilities. Patching these vulnerabilities as soon as possible is your best defense against those who would exploit them. Watch out for apps requesting new permissions during updates, though.

Don’t use public WiFi, do use a VPN

Logging on to a public network leaves logs of your device’s presence there. But what if there’s no login screen, and no password required? Even worse: your device still identifies itself when joining the network, that part’s the same, but if someone’s giving WiFi access out for free, you have to wonder what they’re getting in return.

Sometimes, it’s something intangible like goodwill, but sometimes these networks and access points are set up with collecting user data in mind. The owner of the network can intercept anything you do online that’s not sent over an encrypted channel, like websites you visit, files you download, and potentially even login credentials.

Block ads and trackers

Phone ad tracking is ultimately like any other form of tracking: internet location data, your exact location, mobile carrier, and more can be tied, if not to your full name and address, at least to a unique identifier of some sort. There’s no doubt that ads are an annoying waste of time and bandwidth, but they can also be dangerous.

A lot of research and technological development goes into the phone tracking and online surveillance that allow companies to target advertising at you specifically. It’s a good thing in and of itself to put a stop to this, it’s also crucial if you’re looking into how to make your phone impossible to track.

Use a privacy-respecting OS and a browser like Firefox on all your mobile devices. Opt out of ad tracking and cookies wherever the option to do so is available. Avoid apps that display ads or harvest data for the purpose of advertising.

Use privacy-respecting search engines

If you use Google Search on a device that’s associated with a Google account, then Google knows what you’ve been searching for online. Use something like Startpage, DuckDuckGo, or Qwant instead. Need to guarantee your privacy? Host your own searx instance (for advanced users).

Keep location services turned off

Turning location services off doesn’t guarantee that your location won’t be tracked, but it certainly will limit the everyday, mass-surveillance-type phone tracking. Disable location services by pulling down on your notifications shade and toggling off “location.”

Think twice before installing apps

It seems like anywhere you turn, there’s a company pushing its app on you. From shopping platforms to retailers, transportation companies to ride-shares, companies with mobile-enabled websites still want you to install their apps. Why? It’s impossible to say for sure, but the fact that you can get away with a lot more tracking via an app than a website might have something to do with it.

Check out Incogni’s research hub for multiple articles on the ways different kinds of apps collect user data. These articles dig deep into app permissions, something you should always be on the lookout for when installing and updating mobile apps. The rule of thumb is: if you’re not paying for the service with money, you’re paying for it with personal data.

Limit app permissions

Here’s how you can keep any apps you can’t live without from reaching for permissions they couldn’t possibly need:

On an iPhone

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down to the first app for which you want to change permission settings.
  3. Tap on the app’s name.
  4. Toggle off all the permissions you want to revoke for the app.
  5. Tap “tracking” at the top of the screen.
  6. Tap “never” or “while using the app” (for apps that really do need to know your location).
  7. Repeat Steps 3–6 for the other apps on your list.

On Android

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and tap on “apps.”
  3. Scroll down to the first app for which you want to change permission settings.
  4. Tap on the app’s name.
  5. Tap “permissions.”
  6. Check the permissions listed under “allowed.” 
  7. Revoke any permissions you don’t want the app to have by tapping on them and then on “don’t allow.”
  8. Repeat Steps 4–7 for the other apps on your list.

Lock down your SIM card

Assuming you have a strong passcode or password on your phone, you should also lock down your SIM card. This will make it much more difficult for anyone with physical access to your phone to access settings associated with your SIM card or contacts stored on the SIM card. 

On an iPhone

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap on “cellular.”
  3. Tap on “SIM PIN.”
  4. Enter the default SIM PIN.
  5. Make sure SIM PIN is toggled on.

On Android

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap on “security” (on stock Android) or “biometrics & security” (on Samsung phones).
  3. Tap on “other security settings.”
  4. Tap on “set up SIM card lock.”
  5. Toggle on “lock SIM card.”
  6. Enter the default PIN and tap “OK.”

Opt out of your carrier’s tracking

Your carrier is tracking your phone in at least one of two ways: openly, allowing you to opt out, and/or covertly, in which case you’ll have no way of knowing. Take care of the problem you can see and opt out of your carrier’s tracking program.


  1. Log in to your Verizon account here.
  2. Go to “account.”
  3. Click on “account settings” and then “privacy settings.”
  4. Click on “custom experience” and select “do not use.”
  5. Under “custom experience settings,” click “manage settings.” 
  6. Click “reset.”
  7. Under “custom experience plus,” click “manage settings.”
  8. Click “reset.”

AT&T Wireless

  1. Log in to your AT&T Wireless account here.
  2. Scroll down to “control how we use your data.”
  3. Toggle off all the options.


  1. Log in to your T-Moble account here.
  2. Go to “my account.”
  3. Click on “profile.”
  4. Click on “privacy & notifications.”
  5. Click on “advertising and analytics.”
  6. Select your profile and toggle off all the options.
  7. While still logged in, go to the Privacy Center dashboard here
  8. Click on “get started” and then “learn more about ‘Do Not Sell’ setting.”
  9. Select your T-Mobile service.
  10. Click on “do not sell my personal information.”

Why you can’t really use your phone without it being tracked

Smartphones are complex devices. From the hardware they’re composed of, through the firmware that runs on the various chipsets, to the surface-level software with which the user interacts—there’s a lot there that’s completely out of your control.

Nothing you do in this upper-most level, known as userland, can reliably affect the deeper layers of firmware and hardware. A wealthy-enough bad actor can purchase malware from a company like the Israeli NSO Group and infect your phone—whether iPhone or Android—with spyware while you sleep.

Even in the absence of a targeted attack like this, your phone’s baseband processor is constantly chattering away, doing things your operating system can’t even see. Airplane mode has no effect on it, nor does any other setting to which you have access. The manufacturer is the one in charge here.

So, if you want your phone to be impossible to track, disable it and never use it. If you want it to be impossible to track by person X or company Y, then it’s a different story, and there’s a lot you can do. Start by clearly defining what kind of tracking you want to be protected against.

Who or what is tracking your phone?

Realistically, the only entities actively tracking your phone—this means not only logging your activity but also reviewing and analyzing those logs—are tech giants and the advertisers they work with. The NSA may also be conducting mass surveillance operations that include your phone.

Your circumstances might be different, though, and you might have a more specific threat to deal with. Maybe you have an abusive partner, obsessed ex-partner, or stalker that you suspect of putting spyware on your phone. Or, you might be a whistle-blower or political dissident trying to avoid unlawful persecution.

If you want to keep using your phone and minimize tracking, then you’ll need to draw the line somewhere and compromise. The more hardware features you want to use and the more proprietary software you want to install on your phone, the more tracking you’ll have to just learn to live with.

Here are some of the more common threat models people are likely to encounter when it comes to their phone being tracked.

A single, non-expert attacker

You might suspect an abusive partner of tracking your phone, a creepy work colleague, or some other individual attacker who doesn’t have any advanced technical skills. This is obviously an extremely concerning situation, but at least the tracking methods they’re using are relatively simple to thwart.


Cybercriminals are more likely to monitor than track your phone. They’ll likely need to intercept multifactor authentication (MFA) codes, verification emails, and general communications rather than your location, but you never know. Their tracking attempts are also simple enough to thwart but may require more drastic measures (like a factory reset).


Advertisers and the companies that feed them your user data are generally less harmful than the criminal efforts above, but it’s considerably more difficult to stop them from tracking your phone. This is because your phone, whether iPhone or Android, is primarily set up for this kind of data collection.

A stalker or hacker’s presence on your phone is something extra, something that’s not supposed to be there. Meanwhile, advertisers make use of the kinds of data collection that are baked right into iOS and Android, and far too many of the apps designed to run on top of these operating systems are just data-collection or ad-delivery mechanisms.

A particular company

If a company is going to be tracking your phone, the odds are overwhelming that it’s your employer or the owner of an app you downloaded. Your employer may well have a right to track your work phone. Leaving it stored securely at work would be one way around this. A creepy, location-tracking app can usually simply be uninstalled.

Apple and Alphabet, the makers of the iPhone and Android OS, respectively, are 100% tracking your phone. You can replace Android with a privacy-respecting OS, but you’re out of luck when it comes to iOS—your only option there is to replace your iPhone with an Android phone. Choose the model wisely and swapping out the OS will be a breeze.

Governments and state-sponsored actors

Many governments have been caught spying on their own and other countries’ citizens, often unlawfully. State-sponsored hacking groups have near-limitless resources and immunity from prosecution in their home countries. These are formidable adversaries that are likely to use sophisticated techniques to track your phone.

If you believe you are or may become a target for one of these organizations, a smartphone probably isn’t for you. The most extreme options described above might allow you to get away with using a very particular, highly modified smartphone, but if life and limb depend on it, then going off-grid is the better option.


Can my phone be tracked if location services is off?

Yes, your phone can be tracked even if location services are off. Turning location services off mightn’t do what developers claim it does. Also, there are many ways companies, including Apple and Alphabet, can track your phone, and not all of them require location services to be turned on.

How do I make my iPhone untrackable?

The only way to make your iPhone untrackable is to power it down and either remove the battery (Apple makes this extremely difficult) or place it in a tried-and-tested Faraday bag. As long as your iPhone is on, it’s tracking you. Unfortunately, even turning it off won’t stop the tracking.

How do I stop being tracked?

If you categorically don’t want to be tracked by anyone for any reason, then some variation of “going off the grid” is your only option. Using a smartphone is also a no-go, unless you purchase a privacy-respecting phone with physical kill switches, and even then you’d have to be extremely careful.

How do I stop location tracking?

Location tracking is difficult to stop if you carry a smartphone around with you. You can turn location services off, but unless you can audit the source code, you don’t know that truly disables location tracking. WiFi, Bluetooth, and cell towers all can be and are used for location tracking.

How to trick iPhone tracking?

The surest way to “trick” iPhone tracking is to separate yourself from your iPhone. If it’s not with you, it’s not tracking you. Any device that can determine and store or transmit your location, or connect to devices that can do the same, can be used to track you.

Can an iPhone be tracked if it’s off?

Yes, an iPhone can still be tracked even if it’s off. This tracking appears to be active for 24 hours after powering down the phone, but it may last longer than that, or there may be ways to extend the tracking window. Worse still, your iPhone is even vulnerable to hacking attacks when it’s off.

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